Ordinarily the Tigers would be thrilled to have five major league caliber outfielders vying for three open spots, but not this year, and not with this Detroit team. Right now, with Austin Jackson currently on the disabled list the Tigers are carrying four outfielders; Delmon Young, Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry and Brennan Boesch. Manager Jim Leyland has solved the problem temporarily by tapping Young as the designated hitter and putting the other three players in the field. But with Dirks’ Achilles injury keeping him from getting on the field, Young has seen playing time in left field.
Young in left field is a problem; he’s terrible. In a poll that I just made up right now, nine out of ten managers believe that Young should never be allowed to play in the field. So far in 2012, Young has a mediocre .947 fielding percentage which is 30 points lower than his career average fielding of .976, which is still poor. He is also a career -56 Rtot, or Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above AVG, meaning that he is unable to get to 56 balls that an average left fielder would be able to reach. The spot for Young is on the bench and in a platoon at designated hitter.
Andy Dirks needs to be the everyday left fielder, if his Achilles injury is just minor he should see fielding time in every game remaining in the season. Dirks has surprising speed for a guy of his size and he has proven that he is capable of hitting, and hitting consistently, major league pitching. In his 37 games this season Dirks is hitting .328 with a .379 on-base percentage, if that doesn’t prove he has ice water in his veins then nothing will. Defensively in left field he is worlds better than Young with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. As long as he is healthy Dirks must play left if Detroit hopes to win this division.
Centerfield is Jackson’s, that’s no question, but until he returns Berry will roam the middle of the outfield and do it with ease. Tigers fans thought that Jackson was a speedster who could catch anything hit in the air, then they saw Berry. Berry possesses speed that makes Jackson look like Prince Fielder. He should remain in center until Jackson comes back, and at that time, he should be shifted over to right field on an everyday basis. While Berry has only played in nine games so far this season and has struck out a bit too much, he is still hitting .333 with a .395 on-base percentage. It is because of his blistering speed that he should remain with this club; he changes the complexion of innings because pitchers and defenses have to play the bunt on him whenever he is at the plate. The sample size is still small, but Detroit needs to ride him into the ground and see what they can get out of this guy.
With Jackson back in centerfield and Berry in right, that leaves Brennan Boesch without a position in the field, and that’s okay. Face it, Boesch is not a great fielder, he has an above-average throwing arm but below-average wheels. Boesch has been struggling at the plate this year, much like the rest of the team, but he is hitting a full 50 points lower than last season. This year Boesch is batting .238 while last season he hit .283. His .276 on-base percentage isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good either. Making Boesch platoon the designated hitter position with Young could be good for him as it would allow him to focus on getting his bat back.
Now Young may not like being relegated to a platoon DH, and that’s fine; write him a check for $3 million and wave bye-bye, the Tigers don’t need him that bad. The batting order may have to take a new form too when Jackson comes back; maybe Leyland wants to have Jackson and Berry hit one and two or maybe he wants to stick with Dirks in the two hole. If that is the case, then he could drop Berry to the nine spot and get him to turn the lineup over and get on base for Jackson to get him home.
An outfield of Dirks, Jackson and Berry could be one of the best ever assembled in Comerica Park. The outfield would have great speed and would finally fit the ballpark that they call home. Two guys in Jackson and Berry who are built for Comerica; slapping the ball to the corners and running like the wind, and Dirks having doubles power in a doubles park. If Detroit is serious about winning this season, then they need to play some five card monty with the outfield.